Muskets in the Mexican/American war

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Cavalier

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It's the wrong war I know. Hope that's ok. Was the American army entirely armed with percussion weapons in the Mexican war? What information I can gather on this subject is scanty. Or to put it another way, I have never seen any indication that they were not. Thanks
 

James N.

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It's the wrong war I know. Hope that's ok. Was the American army entirely armed with percussion weapons in the Mexican war? What information I can gather on this subject is scanty. Or to put it another way, I have never seen any indication that they were not. Thanks
Absolutely NOT! Despite the fame of Colonel Jefferson Davis' regiment of Mississippi Volunteers who were armed with the M.1841 rifle which therefore became known as the "Mississippi", the standard arm for U.S. Regular Infantry Regiments was the un-converted-to-percussion flintlock M.1816/1822 musket, made at either Harper's Ferry or Springfield. Cavalry - Dragoons, actually, since there were no units yet designated as cavalry - used flintlock carbines produced by the Hall Rifle Works. The overriding feeling among commanding officers of the Old Army was that percussion caps were too "newfangled", untried, and apt to be unavailable in the wilds of primitive Mexico where the war was fought!
 
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Belfoured

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It's the wrong war I know. Hope that's ok. Was the American army entirely armed with percussion weapons in the Mexican war? What information I can gather on this subject is scanty. Or to put it another way, I have never seen any indication that they were not. Thanks
According to this excellent NPS website on archaeology at the battlefield of Palo Alto, "... the U.S. infantry at Palo Alto probably were armed with Model 1816/1822 and possibly Model 1835 flintlock muskets (Figures 19 and 20). The percussion caps probably were for pistols, Hall Models 1833/1836/1842 carbines, and perhaps some refurbished 1819 Hall rifles. Possibly the Model 1841 percussion rifle (the "Mississippi Rifle") was present as a non-regulation firearm, used by the Texas Rangers. It is doubtful any Model 1842 percussion cap muskets were in use at Palo Alto "

 

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It wasn't until the 1850's that most of the arms in Government storehouses and arsenals were retro-converted to percussion. Although the M.1842 musket had already been adopted, by 1845 when Zach Taylor went off to Texas to begin the war, relatively few had been produced and for reasons given above, they weren't liked by the high command and by far the majority of regiments had yet to even see them.
 

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The War with Mexico is where the Civil War generals cut their teeth. I read a book "The Training Ground: Grant, Lee, Sherman, and Davis in the Mexican War, 1846-1848" It was a great read! It is not good history but well writen. They took a small contingent of professional soldiers and a ton of undisciplined volunteers. It was very interesting reading about how the regular army soldiers differed from the volunteers. From sanitation, to interacting with the Mexican civilians, to fighting. The volunteers were rough and rowdy and did not, since they were volunteers, take to discipline. It must have been insane!
 
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Cavalier

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Thanks very much to all of you for your responces!!! This is just the information I was looking for.
 
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thomas aagaard

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The overriding feeling among commanding officers of the Old Army was that percussion caps were too "newfangled", untried, and apt to be unavailable in the wilds of primitive Mexico where the war was fought!
I would think the supply issue was a big part of this decision.
With a flintlock you can fire if you got the powder and shot.
With a percussion firearm you are in trouble without the caps.

And the US army was by the later part of the war operating with only a weak supply line to the coast and then a long long distance across the sea to even the nearest friendly port. And a lot longer to the nearest federal production facility.
And powder and shots could be captured and found to some extent locally. Not so for percussioncaps.


In 1848 when the 1st Slesvig war broke out both the "danish" government army and "Sleswig-Holstein" rebel army quickly rearmed them self with percussion muskets (and rifle-muskets).
But in comparison to the US army, The rebels had the German arms producing areas just a couple of hundred km to the south with good railroads connections.

And the danish government forces had about 200km in direct line across the sea to Copenhagen.
And easy access to to imports from other states by sea. (and complete control of the sea)

So I think staying with flintlocks was a smart decision for the US army in mexico
And making the change was the right thing to do for both sides in the 1st Slesvig war.
 
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Cavalier

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@Thomas aagard. Thanks you for posting that. It is always fascinating to me to find out what was going on militarily in Europe in the nineteenth century.
 

Jobe Holiday

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As stated:

"With a flintlock you can fire if you got the powder and shot.
With a percussion firearm you are in trouble without the caps."


The same statement is true if you insert the word "Flint". As in "With a flint lock firearm you are in trouble without the flints."

The concern of not having percussion caps able to be supplied has been mentioned frequently. What nobody has addressed is it is no different with the flints for the flint lock arms. If you don't have a flint you can't fire the flint lock arm either! At that time flints were considered only to be good for 25 snaps against the frizzen. I have seen these powerful military flint locks bash a flint to a useless condition in less than 25 shots. So, you needed a ready supply of flints just as you would with percussion caps.
J.
 
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Peter Stines

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One problem they had with caps during the Mexican War was how to carry them. The 1833 jacket had slit pockets and caps were carried in those in 1840's but the tugging and pulling on the material to gain access to the caps could damage the jacket. I believe the first cap boxes were made in 1845. I have seen prototypes from earlier periods, one being a half moon shape with a ring through the flap for closure. Simeon North who contracted to make the Hall carbines mentioned designing a brass "primer box" but I haven't seen any drawings or examples s it must not have been made.
As far as flints go, if you capture the enemies "stuff" you can usually use it in your gear. The Mexicans used primarily the flintlock India Pattern "Brown Bess" and some similar European muskets. Their flints would fit a U.S. musket. Each soldado was issued 1 flint per 20 rounds but they could shatter on the fist snap. The Baker rifles and carbines used a smaller flint but it would work in ins smaller locks like the 1817 "Common" rifle as well as the flint cavalry pistols. I've shot flint for 40 years and yes, some military locks are rock crushers. Some of that is from the strong main spring and sometimes the frizzen spring is too strong or too weak. Too strong and the flint takes a beating opening the pan. Too weak and the frizzen can rebound when fired and crush the flint.
 

Belfoured

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Some excellent information here. Another consideration may (key word) be the fact that this was the first real test for the Bureau of Ordnance. George Bomford was only the second Chief of Ordnance and I have no idea how capable the system was for accommodating changes in techonoloy and adapting them to a war footing for the first time. We know that when Ripley became Chief in 1861, he took a bit of a "fossilized" approach to embracing new technology.
 

thomas aagaard

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As stated:

"With a flintlock you can fire if you got the powder and shot.
With a percussion firearm you are in trouble without the caps."


The same statement is true if you insert the word "Flint". As in "With a flint lock firearm you are in trouble without the flints."

The concern of not having percussion caps able to be supplied has been mentioned frequently. What nobody has addressed is it is no different with the flints for the flint lock arms. If you don't have a flint you can't fire the flint lock arm either! At that time flints were considered only to be good for 25 snaps against the frizzen. I have seen these powerful military flint locks bash a flint to a useless condition in less than 25 shots. So, you needed a ready supply of flints just as you would with percussion caps.
J.
Yes, that is a very very Good point. Something I didn't think about when I wrote the post.
(What happen when one only have limited experience with flintlocks... unlike percussion muskets)

But it really don't change the point. Staying with flintlocks (for the line infantry) was the faster, easy and safe option.

The US army was use to needing flints. And should have had the needed procedures for producing/buying/importing them and shipping them. They where much more likely to have sufficient quantities of flint (to matter) in storage in federal and state arsenals. And they should know how many to bring, how to bring them and how to issue them. And they might be able to get hold of some locally by capturing enemy supplies.

To make the change to percussion muskets the arms in storage in arsenals would need to be converted first (or news arms made), a new procedure for all of the logistics for the caps invented, Some sort of "box" to carry the caps in produced, and a change of the manual of arms made.

Not impossible, but I find it understandable that the main use of percussion arms was by smaller units than the line infantry.
 
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Cavalier

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Speaking for myself, I find these kinds of details facinating. I have fired flintlock and percussion muskets but I have no where near the knowledge or the experience that you guys do. Thanks to all hands above!!! I would assume that the eventual adoption of the percussion musket would reduce the rate of miss fires substantially. I have another question about misfires, but I believe I should make that the subject of another thread.
 

zburkett

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Perhaps it should be pointed out that the revolver had come into favor by the mid 1840s. The Colt's Patterson was favored by the Rangers until the received their Walkers. I have never read of a shortage of percussion caps for them. That may also be why the Texans favored percussion rifles.
 
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hawknknife

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It is well documented that the very first Model 1841 rifles that came to be known as the "Mississippi Rifle, that the U.S. government received were manufactured by Eli Whitney, dated 1844 and 1845, and were shipped to the Baton Rouge Arsenal . 600 delivered in 1844 and 1200 in 1845. These are the ones issued to the 1st Mississippi infantry commanded by Jefferson Davis. The regiment was organized at Vicksburg, Ms in 1846. The regiment did not receive the Whitney rifles un til they had landed in Mexico in August of 1846. The regular army had such "contempt" for the volunteers, it took a bit of "fanageling" for the unit to receive them as they were being held aboard a ship. At Buena Vista in February 1847, the Mississippians faced 400 elite Mexican lancers who charged but made the mistake of stopping at 80 yards and pranced back and forth as they expected the small American regiment to run. The riflemen took aim and started to empty saddles. The Mississippians then chrged into the lancers and cut horse and rider down with their large bowie knives, and Saved the day and battle by their actions.
 
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